Three intriguing storylines as OKC Thunder host Atlanta Hawks

OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) reacts after a play against the Atlanta Hawks: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) reacts after a play against the Atlanta Hawks: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /
2 of 3
OKC Thunder
OKC Thunder will face Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The Hawks’ big offseason move hasn’t lived up to expectations

As one of the most offensively gifted point guards in the association the Hawks elected to make a big move in the offseason to pair him with an equally talented guard — Dejounte Murray.

But through the first half of the calendar, the Hawks haven’t lived up to their own expectations. They enter this match essentially in the same position as the OKC Thunder having played one additional game (24-24) with one extra win (Thunder: 23-24).

Atlanta made the deal for Murray presuming they’d be vying for a home-court seed with his addition  – instead, they’re fighting for a play-in seed.

A sign Young hasn’t bought in completely is his usage rate this season is 33.3 percent compared to last year when it was 34.4 percent. It’s doubtful the Hawks front office is thrilled by the fact he’s barely shifted in that regard.

More concerning is Young’s perimeter shooting hasn’t been close to his standard. First of all, instead of Trae gaining more off-ball opportunities to shoot more he’s actually putting up fewer long balls, and worse – his efficiency is the lowest of his career.

Case in point, in 2021-22 he shot 8.0 perimeter attempts per game hitting them with a 38.2 percent efficiency. This season he’s attempting 6.8 long balls connecting with 31.4 percent efficiency.

Overall his field goal attempts are almost identical (20.1 attempts versus 20.3 last season) but he’s regressed in efficiency there as well (down to 42.4% from 46% last year) while his effective field goal percentage is down to 47.7% from 53.6% last season.

Atlanta enters this match seeded eighth and among the East’s parity pack with seven teams seeded sixth through 12th separated by just 5.5 games.

If there was ever any question about Sam Presti’s abilities and position as one of the best front-office executives comparing where the Thunder franchise is in relation to the Hawks is a great starting point.

Presti has a horde of draft picks at his disposal, the second pick from the 2022 draft sitting on the bench to add to the already overachieving 2022-23 squad. Moreover, the skyrocketing ascent of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into superstardom has put to rest any questions about who really won the Paul George trade – – Presti didn’t just win that deal he slammed it!

Meanwhile, Travis Schlenk who infamously made the deal with the Mavericks in order to draft Trae Young and send Luka Doncic to Dallas has been moved to an advisory role. Landry Fields is now the man in charge of calling the shots in Atlanta and has free reign to restructure how he sees fit.

To offer a bit more perspective – consider what the goals were for each of these clubs’ preseason and where they currently reside.  While they have essentially the same records it’s the Thunder who are overachieving and better positioned to continue their ascent.

Since December 16th, the Thunder have delivered a 12-6  record beating some of the elite teams in the NBA. In contrast, the Hawks are 10-9 in the same period with the last two matches losses to sub-.500 teams (Hornets, Bulls).